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umbilical cordNew research suggests that there may be long-lasting benefits to waiting longer to cut the umbilical cord after childbirth. Previous research had found that waiting to clamp the cord allows more iron-rich blood from the placenta to reach the newborn and decreases the child’s risk of being iron deficient at 4 months old. And this is significant, considering that one in six American babies are iron-deficient.

Now, a study from Sweden takes this a step further, finding that newborn boys whose umbilical cords were left attached for three extra minutes had better fine-motor control when they reached preschool than those whose cords were clamped immediately. These results are likely due to the fact that iron is essential to brain development.

“Much of the neural wiring that governs motor skills later in life is developed during infancy,” says lead study author and pediatrician Ola Andersson, M.D., “and after birth the brain needs iron, among other things, to develop properly.”

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